Every new arrival wants to know if they can survive or live well in Thailand on X thousand baht a month?

It's a difficult question because each person has different needs. However, the following surveys and figures are from teachers actually working here! How much do they earn and what do they spend their money on?. And after each case study, I've added comments of my own.

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Barry

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 75,000

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

I work at a private secondary school in central Bangkok and my full-time salary (about 18 contact hours a week) is 75,000 baht. I've worked at the school for four years. I do get the option to earn extra income doing Summer camps or special programs outside of the normal English program but I tend to leave that to the more 'money-hungry' members of the teaching staff. I value my free time more.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

Never as much as I would like to. In a good month, I might manage around 15,000 baht.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I live in one of those one-bedroom condos where the designers somehow manage to squeeze a kitchen, bedroom and living room into thirty square meters. I actually rent it from a friend who bought it as an investment last year and I pay him 10,000 baht a month plus bills. I've checked the property portals and the same size apartments in the same building rent out for at least 15,000 baht a month. It's a win-win situation; I get a great deal on the rent because the owner is a good friend and he gets someone he can trust to live in the place.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

I can almost reach out and touch the skytrain station from my balcony and with the ever-expanding skytrain network, you can go anywhere in Bangkok these days. I can't remember the last time I had to take a taxi. My school is about three minutes walk from a station so I probably spend about 1,500 on fares every month. I've long thought about buying a car in Bangkok but honestly, it just never feels worth the hassle.

Utility bills

Gas, electric and water come to about 4,000 baht a month. I'm at home a lot and the air-conditioning is always on if I'm in. Visitors often come into my apartment and comment on how cold it is. I just like it that way. It's probably another thousand a month for Netflix, a decent phone plan and all that stuff.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I try to eat healthy and cook at home as much as I can. I'm really not that keen on eating out because it just seems to get more and more expensive. I've got a fantastic little fresh market, which I go to a couple of times a week to pick up my meat, fruit and veg and juices. All the sellers know me and know what I like to buy. I would say my food bill rarely breaks 8,000 a month. I resist impulse buys at 7-11 and I've pretty much cut out chocolate and fizzy drinks, etc.

Nightlife and drinking

Quality craft beers and ciders are my weakness and I probably spend 4,000 a month on just alcohol to drink at home. I'll also hit the bars a couple of nights a week and I bet that's another 15,000 a month right there. Most night I'll stay home and entertain myself with Netflix or something, but it's no good being cooped up all the time. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.

Books, computers

Not really an expense. I used to play computer games but just grew bored of them. And I've never really been an avid reader.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

When you weigh up foreigner lifestyles and standards of living in Bangkok, I consider myself at the 'bottom end of the middle-class' if that makes sense. 75K is enough to do what I want, but only up to an extent. I still have to check menu prices in restaurants and I can't afford to pay for 5,000 baht a night accommodation if I go away for the weekend. Bangkok is not an expensive city to live in but I wouldn't call it cheap either, certainly if you stray into the high-end supermarkets and the better shopping malls.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Shopping at the local markets. You can save a packet by going there instead of the supermarkets... and you're supporting local traders.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

In Bangkok, 60K would be my absolute rock-bottom minimum salary. Anything less than that is impossible in my book. To those teachers surviving on 30-50K, I salute you. I genuinely don't know how you do it.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thanks Barry. That's an excellent deal you've got on the rent and it sounds like a good arrangement. I've banged on for years about always renting the best apartment you can afford because it means you'll enjoy being at home, and you're less likely to want to go out in the evening. That's when the spending can really mount up.  


Hektor

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 65,000

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

I make 50,000 baht a month from my full-time job at a college in Bangkok, where I teach maths and science. I also do a corporate job at a company near my apartment a couple of nights a week and a little bit of online teaching but that's only for a few hours at the weekend. 65,000 would be the top end of what I can make at the moment. During quieter months of the year, it might drop to around 60K.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

I try to save 10-15K whenever I can. Sometimes it might be a bit more.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I live in a studio apartment that's more or less covered by my housing allowance of 8,000 baht a month. I only have to pay for utility bills. It's a relatively small room but I've turned it into my bachelor pad and it has great views over the city from the 20th floor.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

I have a large motorcycle but I ride it less and less these days after I had a bad accident last year and ended up in hospital for several days with a few minor injuries (although they didn't feel minor at the time) If I take public transport, then motorcycle taxis and a short skytrain ride will cost me 120 baht a day so let's say 2,500 a month for transportation.

Utility bills

About 2,000 baht a month if the weather is particularly hot and I have to run the air-conditioning more often.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I had a minor health scare at the beginning of this year and discovered I had high blood pressure and a few other ailments that need to be regulated and kept in check. For that reason, I'm trying to eat as healthy as possible. I've cut out fast food (which I used to eat far to often) and trying to stick to a diet of brown rice, fruit and vegetables and Thai soups. I can tell you this - it does wonders for your spending when you can keep away from McDonalds and KFC. I've lost a lot of weight and my monthly food budget is down to around 7,000 a month.

Nightlife and drinking

I've cut out alcohol completely. In truth I wasn't much of a
drinker anyway and I got bored of the Bangkok nightlife a long time ago. I have a sort of on/off girlfriend that I meet once a week for a meal and I'll sometimes go out with colleagues on a Friday night to a jazz pub or something similar. Drinks are often expensive in these places so I'd put a figure of around 8,000 a month on this.

Books, computers

I do like my gadgets and gaming. I've always got to have the latest smartphone and gaming console, but it's difficult to say what this costs because a phone can last me 2-3 years and the latest game machine even longer.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

It's pretty good. I'm in my early 40s now and I've cut down on my nights out and excessive eating and speeding around on my motorbike. I live a much more sedate lifestyle now that I'm more responsible and want to take better care of myself. These days I would rather stay at home and watch Netflix or maybe prepare the following day's lessons.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Food at the local market can be crazy cheap and I genuinely think it's often better quality than what you find in the high-end supermarkets.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

It totally depends on the individual. I could survive in Bangkok on 40K but it wouldn't be that much fun. Come to think of it, I survive on not much more than that now. You will always find ways to spend money, regardless of how much you earn. The secret for me is to do everything in moderation and not be fooled into thinking you are going short just because you are not out partying every night.

Phil's analysis and comment

Hektor sounds like a sensible chap and a moderate 65K income (can we call that moderate now for Bangkok?) seems like more than enough. Take care of your health, sir. 

Please send us your cost of living surveys. We would love to hear from you! This is one of the most popular parts of the Ajarn website and these surveys help and inspire a lot of other teachers. Just click the link at the top of the page where it says 'Submit your own Cost of Living survey' or click here. 


Faisal

Working in Ratchaburi

Monthly Earnings 25,000

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

I teach at a big government school on the outskirts of Ratchaburi town. My full-time salary is 22,000 baht a month but I can increase that to 25,000 almost every month with some extra tutoring. For my full-time salary I teach from Monday to Friday and have 18 contact hours.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

I try to save 5,000 - 10,000 baht a month to keep in the bank but sometimes I have a large expense. This month I needed a new fan and a kettle. That was 1,500 baht gone in the blink of my eye.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

My school provides an apartment in a building just five minutes walk away. It's just a small studio with a balcony but comfortable for one person. The rent is 4,000 baht a month and the school pays half of that amount.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

Nothing because I can walk to school. I don't really have any other option because I don't live on one of the regular songthaew routes and there are no motorbike taxis around me.

Utility bills

My electricity and water bills come to around 1,000 a month but I have to pay that myself. I have aircon but the unit is very old and I think it would be expensive to run so I don't switch it on much. The weather has been boiling got this last month though so I had to run it for a couple of hours to survive.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I get breakfast and lunch provided at school so I only have to buy an evening meal. I usually pick up something from the street or in the market. There is a fantastic selection of food sellers that set up each night in front of the school to catch the kids as they go home and you can pick up meat on a stick for 5 baht, which goes well with sticky rice.

Nightlife and drinking

I don't drink it all. If I go out in the evening, it will be just a walk along the river and perhaps an ice cream or some other snack.

Books, computers

Nothing.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

It's very basic and I know that as a non-native English speaker my salary is not that much but I only recently finished university and this is my first job. I really love teaching and love my students so the money doesn't matter so much at this time in my life if you know what I mean.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Food is very good value here and if you are not a night bird and can stay away from the alcohol and other temptations, then you will not need to spend much money.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

I can survive on 15,000 a month at the moment. That works out at 500 baht a day and it's surprising how that stretches when your food costs just 30 baht and your coffee is 20 baht, etc.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thank you Faisal. It's good to hear from the non-NES section of the teacher market, which is of course generally lower paid. It's good to hear that you can still live relatively comfortably. We would like to hear from more teachers in this wage bracket. What about the thousands of Filipinos working here? By doing one of these surveys, you would be helping thousands of other Filipinos who want to come and teach here - but we rarely / never hear from you. 


Colin

Working in Surin

Monthly Earnings 40,000

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

I work at one of Surin Province's larger government schools and 40,000 baht a month is my full-time salary. It used to be 35K a month but I've just had a pay-rise for completing my first 12-month contract. I take part in a number of school activities outside normal school hours but I never receive any compensation for that time, nor do I really expect to. Sometimes a school sees the loyal foreign teacher as part of the Thai family I suppose.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

On a good month, I can easily save half of my salary. There is very little to spend your money on up here. My motto has always been 'live within your means' so I never spend more than the salary I earn - even if I'm feeling flush.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I pay 3,000 baht a month for a studio apartment in a fairly low-end apartment building, which are common in this part of Thailand. I have a bed, a wardrobe and a table and that's really it as far as furniture is concerned. The toilet is the Thai squat-style and I take showers in cold water but that's fine except maybe in the cool season for a few weeks.

All six of the foreign teachers who work at my school live here and in the evening we sit outside, usually joined by a few of the Thai residents as well. We'll order a few bottles of beer and someone will run off to get a bag of 'moo ping' and we'll just sit around practicing our Thai and enjoying what is a very simple but fulfilling lifestyle. It's the kind of lifestyle I came to Thailand for. My primary objective was always to escape the hurly burly of city life.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

I ride a bicycle to school so that costs me nothing. I sometimes take the train into Buriram or perhaps a bit further afield, but as anyone who has travelled by third class train in Thailand will tell you, the tickets are ludicrously cheap!

Utility bills

Water and electricity come to barely a thousand baht. Believe it or not, I do have an air-con unit in my room, but it's never on for more than 2-3 hours a day. I tend to use it to cool down the room before I go to sleep and for 30 minutes while I'm getting ready for work in the morning.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

Most of my meals are bought from footpath vendors (usually about 25 baht a portion) and I eat lunch at school. I generally skip breakfast, but I'm not a big eater anyway. I also avoid 7-11s if I can because there is too much temptation to 'impulse buy'. My monthly food bill is probably around 5,000 baht a month.

Nightlife and drinking

This is Surin, so most of what's available tends to be a Thai scene and I keep away from Thai men that have had too much to drink. That's not to say foreigners aren't welcome but I never really enjoyed nights out at Thai pubs. I prefer to sit around and drink in front of the apartment building.

Books, computers

I have a laptop and the normal internet / phone plan, which I think comes to around 500 baht a month. I'm not much of a reader.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

A very basic standard of living is all I strive for and it's very easily achievable if you move to the North East. I look for a life that's both minimalist and uncomplicated. Having lots of possessions, the latest smartphone, top of the range trainers and a circle of rich friends just doesn't interest me. Not one iota.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Third class train fares and street food.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

I can survive comfortably on 30K a month (even less) but I appreciate my lifestyle certainly isn't for everyone. In fact, it's probably not for most foreign teachers. But I've lived this way for a year and a half now and I haven't got bored of it yet.

Phil's analysis and comment

Wow! Thanks Col. I think your survey is about as 'rural foreign teacher living the simple life' as we've ever had. But as long as you're happy - and you clearly are - then that's all that matters. I remember one of my very first apartments in Bangkok back in the early 90s and a situation very similar to yours. A whole gang of us (Thais and foreigners) would congregate in front of the building in the evening for some drink and banter. Great times! 


Robert

Working in A suburb just outside Khorat

Monthly Earnings 35,000

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

I work through a decent agency at a Thai government school. My salary is 35,000 baht a month. I don’t do any extra work such as private students or online teaching. I could but I just don’t bother. I stretch the 35K salary as far as it will go.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

I save about 10,000 - 15,000 baht of that salary but don’t really need to. I have a decent amount of savings that I could dip into in an emergency, but touch wood, so far those savings remain intact.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I live in a tidy two-storey town-house in a tiny village about five kilometres outside Khorat and surrounded by forests and rice fields. It’s fairly basic but it has a small kitchen, two bedrooms (I use one as a store-room) and a bathroom. There is also an upstairs terrace / balcony where you can hang out washing. I pay 6,000 baht a month plus utility bills. For the amount of space I have, it feels like an absolute bargain.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

I have my own scooter. That’s pretty much a necessity when you live where I do. I love riding my scooter through the countryside, especially in the early morning on the way to school, but it isn’t quite as much fun in the rainy season with the rain lashing down. But the teacher must get through! I spend about 500 baht a month on gas.

Utility bills

Electric and water come to barely 500 baht a month and I pay another 1,000 for internet and phone.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

Sometimes I cook at home using ingredients from the local market (well, actually it’s more of a roadside shack than a market) and I have breakfast and lunch at the school. A trip to McDonalds or KFC in Khorat is a once or twice a month treat. I bet I don’t even spend 3,000 baht a month on food. Yes – a hundred baht a day sounds about right. I can throw a decent meal together at home for half that. There are also a couple of roadside restaurants in the village that charge about 30 baht a dish if I fancy going out to eat instead of cooking at home.

Nightlife and drinking

Nightlife LOL. When it goes dark around these parts, you can’t see one foot in front of the other. Nightlife would be sharing a large bottle of beer with the village drunk outside the corner shop. So I tend not to bother. I’ll have the occasional beer at home but I’m not really a drinker.

Books, computers

I spend nothing on these. I download e-books for free.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

I lived and worked in Bangkok for five years and I grew to hate every second of it. The heat, the humidity, the traffic jams, the growing ‘un-Thainess’ of the place and a thousand other reasons. The more hours I worked and the more money I made (usually between 60 and 80,000 a month) the more miserable I became. Living in Bangkok became a kind of forced slavery. I knew I had to get out.

The game-changer was when an old pal from England retired to live in North-east Thailand, in a village very similar to the one I myself live in now. He had a house built and settled very quickly into Thai rural life. I went up to stay with him for a few days and instantly became envious of all that he had (and indeed didn’t have). His days consisted of long walks and leisurely bicycle rides. His evenings were spent chatting and improving his Thai with a friendly bunch of elderly locals over large bottles of Leo. I had known this guy a long time but I’d never seen him look so fit and healthy and at peace with himself. ‘I want some of this’ I thought. And I returned to Bangkok and drew up my escape plans. I was gone within a month.

I look back now and the five years in Bangkok feel like five wasted and unnecessary years. I love it out here in the sticks.I feel born again. I have a job that’s hardly what you would call demanding and I have all the free time I need. The money just doesn’t matter.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Out in the countryside, everything is cheap. I couldn’t choose one thing over another.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

In Bangkok, regadless of how much you earn, you can burn through it somehow. In rural Thailand, 20,000 is more than enough. 35,000 feels like a fortune.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thank you Robert for I think one of the most thought-provoking cost of living surveys we've had.

Every time I venture into rural Thailand for a few days (especially the north) I return to Bangkok's concrete jungle and wonder what the hell I'm doing there. In fact if it wasn't for my wife's job and her family, I suspect we would move tomorrow. 

Many years ago, when I was an academic director of a language school, we won a contract with a government school in Mahasarakham Province to supply them with three full-time teachers. A quick show of hands in the staff-room and it wasn't difficult to find three willing souls who fancied swapping the city life for a straw hut out in the forest. 

Two months down the line I contacted the teachers to find out how they were settling in. One teacher was loving it. "I jog, I cycle, I play tennis, I go to bed early with a good book. I've never felt fitter in my whole life. And the school and students are fantastic!" 

The other two teachers begged me to bring them back to Bangkok. "There's nothing to do here. The boredom is slowly killing us" 

What they really meant was that there was no nightlife. Both these teachers had a reputation for enjoying a night on the sauce and perhaps the company of a lady or three. I knew they wouldn't last the pace.

To me that sums things up. You're either a city person or someone who can handle the quiet life in the country.


This cost of living section is one of the most popular parts of the Ajarn website and we would love you to take part. Send us your cost of living surveys and tell us a little about your life in Thailand.


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